Gary J. Whitehead has authored three books of poetry, the most recent being A Glossary of Chickens (Princeton University Press, 2013). His other books include The Velocity of Dust (Salmon Publishing, 2004) and Measuring Cubits while the Thunder Claps (David Robert Books, 2008). His poems have appeared widely in journals, reviews, magazines and newspapers, including The New Yorker, The New Criterion, Poetry, Internazionale, and Poetry Ireland Review. He has been the recipient of A New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry and The Pearl Hogrefe Fellowship in Creative Writing at Iowa State University. He teaches high school English in northern New Jersey and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.
Moose in the Yard
It came like a dark thing done,
ambling out of a thicket,
sniffing the swing set and slide.
It came with its long face
and six-pointed antlers
velvety as cat-o’-nines.
It ate the yew. It ate the hostas.
It kept me hostage in the house
of dark things done,
for as sweet as it looked
lying in the crabgrass and clover
(and eating those, too),
I knew it was a wild animal,
capable of great violence
and weighing more
than a dark thing done,
being muscle and bone, tooth
and hoof, and not immaterial,
justifiable. When it rose,
startled by the security light,
a bit weak in the knees,
or so it seemed, I thought
for a second of the way
I must look getting up
from my morning stretch,
languid and still taut from sleep.
It ate the day lilies.
It ate my whiskey barrel herbs.
It stepped into a shadow
like a dark thing done,
and then it was at the window,
where the bird seed hung,
and it gazed back, blinking.
If our father had shot one,
I would hold up to a bright light
the film strip of the home movie
of my brothers and me running,
each frame having frozen forever
our young legs in midstride.
Was there, Leland Stanford
wondered, in 1878, a moment
when all four hooves of a galloping horse
left the ground? Muybridge,
his hired photographer, rigged
twelve strings to twelve cameras,
each a tripwire flash to capture
the answer. Yes, like Pegasus,
horses could fly, however briefly.
This is the way I imagine myself
in the stop-motion myth of life,
galloping along the track of the past
toward the future’s unseen finish line,
vying with you, my brothers, to be the best,
both feet leaving the ground of the now
with a puff of dust, a puff of dust.
The Next Disaster
Before the rubble and remains have been trucked
away to be sorted and labeled and inspected,
before the press descends to peck out the story,
before the casualties are counted and logged
and the bodies zipped into black plastic bags,
before, even, the smoke or radiation dissipates,
at the moment of first bright flash, perhaps,
there will have been the girl in blue walking
home from school, a song stuck in her head,
the man pushing his cart with its squeaky wheel,
the boy swallowing his last bit of apple,
the woman stopping to loosen her mauve scarf.
Yes, them, and perhaps several or many more,
people pausing, too, to look, smiling almost,
their eyes seeing something terrible
but their minds conniving otherwise,
resorting to vague hope in the instant between,
as with the neck-bent witnesses of the fire
at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory
that March day, in 1911, in New York City,
who thought the dark shapes dropping
from the upper floors of the locked building
to be skeins of valuable fabric the frantic owners
were trying to save from the flames.
E-mail from the Dead
So they move from one box to another—
from the dark coffin to the inbox
——–of the radiant screen.
A jolt of hope when we see the name,
a second-long resurrection
——–when we read the header,
click the link, watch the next box open
to some unintelligible spam
——–that speeds the grief
all over again. And even though we know,
we wonder if perhaps we were mistaken
——–to think they left without
that wretched goodbye. Maybe they’ve
just been asleep all this orphaned time
——–or away on vacation.
Yesterday, one arrived from Andy,
my former dog walker. And there he was
——–with his many keys.
I could smell his aftershave when I opened
the kitchen door. His fanny pack
——–bulged with biscuits.
In summer, one came from Jim, dead a decade.
How could he be hacked
——–after so long gone?
The old wounds seem to leak out light.
This morning I used the electric kettle
——–he gave me after melting mine
on a flat-top stove. Like our many gadgets,
our reviled store-and-forward
——–communications outlive us,
go on working, postal ghosts shouldering
digital missives through the warm cords
——–of our wired times.
I know they’re dead, these people I knew,
who kept in touch with me ethereally,
but I want to believe that they keep in touch
with me still, that they have
——–something to tell
through the network of networks
about silence and silk, dust
——–and cold ground.